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Disgrace Paperback – 6 Apr 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Edition edition (6 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099289520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099289524
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J.M. Coetzee's work includes Waiting For the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Boyhood, Youth, Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year. He was the first author to win the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Emerging from the dissident calibrations of literary voices joined together in the culture of protest against the apartheid regime, the distinctive writing of novelist, critic and academic J M Coetzee has become identified as one of the most finely tuned among contemporary Southern African writers. From the local recognition accorded his earliest novel Dusklands to the international acclaim with which his rewriting of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe story, Foe was received, Coetzee has dedicated himself to transforming South African writing from a blunt weapon of struggle to a delicate and incisive instrument of reflective liberation.

Disgrace takes as its complex central character 52-year-old English professor David Lurie whose preoccupation with Romantic poetry--and romancing his students--threatens to turn him into a "a moral dinosaur". Called to account by the University for a passionate but brief affair with a student who is ambivalent about his embraces, David refuses to apologise, drawing on poetry before what he regards as political correctness in his claim that his "case rests on the rights of desire." Seeking refuge with his quietly progressive daughter Lucie on her isolated small holding, David finds that the violent dilemmas of the new South Africa are inescapable when the tentative emotional truce between errant father and daughter is ripped apart by a traumatic event that forces Lucie to an appalling disgrace. Pitching the moral code of political correctness against the values of Romantic poetry in its evocation of personal relationships, this novel is skillful--almost cunning--in its exploration of David's refusal to be accountable and his daughter's determination to make her entire life a process of accountability. Their personal dilemmas cast increasingly foreshortened shadows against the rising concerns of the emancipated community, and become a subtle metaphor for the historical unaccountability of one culture to another.

The ecstatic critical reception with which Disgrace has been received has insisted that its excellence lies in its ability to encompass the universality of the human condition. Nothing could be farther from the truth, or do the novel--and its author--a greater disservice. The real brilliance of this stylish book lies in its ability to capture and render accountable--without preaching--the specific universality of the condition of whiteness and white consciousness. Disgrace is foremost a confrontation with history that few writers would have the resources to sustain. Coetzee's vision is unforgiving--but not bleak. Against the self-piteous complaints of all declining cultures and communities who bemoan the loss of privileges that were never theirs to take, Coetzee's vision of an unredeemed white consciousness holds out--to those who reach towards an understanding of their position in history by starting again, with nothing--the possibility of "a moderate bliss." --Rachel Holmes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Exhilarating... One of the best novelists alive" (Sunday Times)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Alexis Paladin on 29 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
It is interesting to read the reactions to Disgrace and particularly to its two main characters David Lurie and his daughter Lucy. Most readers seem to have a very poor opinion of Lurie and even those who do not overtly dislike him appear to agree that he is self-obsessed and/or some kind of sexual deviant. Surely it is closer to the truth to say that he is among the most genuinely realistic middle-aged male characters ever created. He is admittedly driven by some selfish instincts but is that not true of all people? Is Lurie not in fact a more admirable person because he understands himself, his desires and impulses? To criticise him is to criticise human-kind, well maybe man-kind and that is perhaps why some people find him so uncomfortable to read. His attitudes towards women form one of the novel's central tensions, the age-old struggle between the sexes. He is not unkind or unpleasant to the women in his life, quite the reverse usually, but he does, to an extent objectify and pursue them, like many men. Coetzee does not try to tell us whether this is right or wrong he simply presents it as fact and gives us the opportunity to think about it, to compare it with our own lives and to try to make sense of it.

In exactly the same way he invites us to consider Lucy's attitude as a white South African woman towards her black male attackers. To some people, including her father, her attitude is inexplicable. Instead of hating and seeking revenge she accepts the offence as some kind of inevitable consequence of the years of apartheid and simply refuses to even criticise her assailants. In complete contrast to her father's instinctive id driven life, she deeply feels the collective sins of her race and is anxious to atone for them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By bookworm on 3 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback
For me, the most intriguing and beguiling aspect of this novel is not the apparently controversial picture it paints of post-apartheid South Africa but the skill with which Coetzee draws us into a deepening understanding of, and sympathy with, his disgraced anti-hero David Lurie's relationships with women. All but one of these women are , at best, two dimensional ~ ex-wife Rosalind, rabid feminist power-woman Rassool, part-time prostitute Soraya, animal lover Bev, lesbian Helen, and of course, the naive victim Melanie. These women are caricatures not because of any limitations in Coetzee's skill as a writer but because we are only allowed to see them through Lurie's eyes. We are invited to share the strength of Lurie's emotional responses to these women ~ boredom, anger, duty, lust irritation ~ which, like the women themselves, are strongly felt but lack any real depth. Lucy, Lurie's daughter is the only woman with whom Lurie has a complex relationship,the only woman whom Lurie loves unconditionally and the only woman who is fully drawn. It is by no means incidental that he is prevented from defending her violation because he is locked in a toilet.....such a dismissive cruelty by the author. Reduced in the end to accepting a relationship of "visitorship" with his daughter, Lurie attempts to pour all of his inarticulate feelings about love and loss into an opera but only succeeds in retreating into a bathetic fantasy world where the cries of his operatic creation Theresa for her dead lover Byron are accompanied by the plinking of a toy banjo. After the first few pages of this novel I disliked Lurie intensely...ah yes, I thought, I know what sort of character he is, I have him taped. Towards the end of the novel I realised that in being so quick to dismiss, to define, to pigeon-hole and to caricature, I had done exactly what I had been so critical of Lurie for doing. And at the very end I recognised that his flaws are a pre-condition of his humanity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By F. O'Meara on 17 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback
Underneath the troubling and bleak subject matter of Disgrace bubbles a power and a beauty subtly infusing it with hope. It is far from uplifting but the writer creates a space where nothing is definitive, not ourselves nor our politics. This is the space where possibility, and therefore hope, are born.

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, written in prose that is spare and precise, Disgrace explores the nature of power and desire through the personal fall from grace of a white Capetown academic, David Lurie, and the subsequent rape of his daughter, Lucy, by three black men.

David, a fifty-two year old divorced Professor of Romantic Poetry and Communications believes he "has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well" until the prostitute he sees weekly discontinues their arrangement. Afraid he is losing his "magnetism" he approaches one of his students and coerces her into having an affair. Privately recognising that his advances were "not rape, not quite that, but undesired nevertheless, undesired to the core" he pleads guilty to the charges she eventually presses before the university but refuses to admit he was wrong. He later rests his case on "the rights of desire". It's difficult to discern, however, to what extent he believes this making him a fascinating character as we are never quite sure of who he is. Fired from his job and disgraced, he visits Lucy at her smallholding where both of them are attacked.

David is outraged by his daughter's rape. He is confounded by her refusal to press charges and by her rejection of his help to leave the isolated smallholding on which she lives as she considers instead the offer of "protection" from her progressive, black neighbour Petrus.
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